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Diabetes is where your body struggles to control its levels of insulin. When this happens, glucose can’t get inside the cells and builds up in the blood. This is called high blood glucose, and it’s the key factor that defines diabetes. There are three types: type 1, type 2 and gestational. And they can all provide barriers to everyday life.
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Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a chronic health problem that affects the body’s ability to produce insulin or use the blood sugar (or blood glucose) effectively.
Blood sugar levels are regulated by a hormone called insulin which is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. It helps glucose get into the cells where it’s needed.
Type 1 diabetes is a health condition in which your immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. So, they cannot produce any insulin. It usually occurs in children, teenagers and young people but can also develop at any age.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which cells become insensitive to insulin and cannot make use of the blood sugar effectively. As a result, blood glucose levels go up. It’s milder and more common than type 1, but can lead to serious complications in your eyes, nerves, kidney and heart. In type 2 diabetes, there are two connected problems: your cells respond poorly to insulin, so can’t make use of the blood sugar effectively. And sometimes your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin.
Gestational diabetes is a health condition which occurs in pregnant women. During pregnancy, sometimes the body becomes insulin resistant and so blood sugar levels rise. This type of diabetes usually goes away after birth.
There’s also a form of diabetes known as ‘Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood’ (or LADA) which is sometimes informally called ‘diabetes 1.5’. This is currently classified as a form of type 1 diabetes, but shares similarities with type 2 – hence the ‘1.5’. Research is currently being undertaken to find out what seems to make it different from both type 1 and 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes can affect anyone at any time, but type 2 diabetes is usually acquired later in life. You are more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you’re over 40 (or over 25 if you’re south Asian), have a family history of diabetes, or are overweight or obese.
Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction that destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, called beta cells. This process can go on for months or years before any symptoms appear. Some people have certain genes that make them more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes happens when your blood sugar gets too high during pregnancy, and your body can’t make enough insulin to regulate it. Like type 2 diabetes, you’re at a higher risk of getting gestational diabetes if you’re overweight or have a family history of diabetes.
A 2016 study suggested that 9% of men and 7.9% of women worldwide could be diagnosed as having diabetes: a number that has risen by 28.5% since 1980. So, it’s common, and it’s on the rise. This is generally thought to be because the world’s population is getting older and heavier.
Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1, with an estimated 90% of diabetes sufferers having type 2, but both are for life. But where type 1 is unavoidable, it’s possible to minimise the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by living a healthy lifestyle. This type is the main reason for diabetes becoming more common.
In the case of gestational diabetes, it’s estimated that 2%–10% of yearly pregnancies are affected by it.
Worldwide trends in diabetes since 1980: a pooled analysis of 751 population-based studies with 4·4 million participants. The Lancet, 387(10027), pp.1513–1530.
Gestational Diabetes. [online]
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The cause of type 1 diabetes is often genetic. If any of your parents or siblings have type 1 diabetes, you might get it as well.
Besides this, environmental factors, like viruses or other autoimmune disorders like Vitiligo or Graves’ disease may also cause it.
You might get type 2 diabetes due to genetics, lifestyle disorders or certain health conditions. If you are obese or overweight and lead a lifestyle with a lot of stress and no physical activity or exercise, you might develop type 2 diabetes mellitus. High blood pressure, low levels of “good cholesterol” high-density lipoprotein (HDL), high levels of triglycerides in the blood, or a family history of diabetes might also increase your chances of getting diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is another factor. If you had gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of having type 2 diabetes.
The symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes include extreme thirst, excessive hunger, sudden weight loss, frequent urination, tiredness, frequent infections of skin, gums, vaginal or urinary tract, slow-healing sores and blurry vision.
Many people, however, can have type 2 diabetes without realising. This is because the symptoms can be mild, and don’t necessarily make you feel unwell.
If left untreated and uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to a range of problems. These problems can be caused gradually, so it’s important to get an early diagnosis where possible, and keep good control over your blood sugar levels.
Complications of untreated diabetes can include: cardiovascular disease, nerve, kidney and eye damage, skin conditions, alzheimers and depression.
Global trends in diabetes complications: a review of current evidence. Diabetologia, 62(1), pp.3–16.
There are a range of different types of diabetes treatments which work to regulate your blood sugar levels.
Sometimes you might need to take a combination of some of these treatments, and other times, for instance if you have type 2 diabetes, you might be able to regulate your condition just with a change in diet. These treatments can often be more or less suitable for different people depending on their health needs and condition. Our clinician will be able to advise you of which type of treatment might be best for you once you’ve talked to us about your health.
The ‘best’ treatment for diabetes depends on which type of diabetes you have. The best treatment for type 1 diabetes is usually the use of an insulin pump or injector, frequent checks of blood sugar, and diet monitoring.
Whereas the best treatment for type 2 diabetes is generally leading a better lifestyle – so more exercise and less sugary foods – as well as using medications or insulin.
If you’re unsure of which treatment can be best for you, talk to us about your health and our clinical team can tell you what the best options are.
No, diabetes doesn’t always need treatment. Some people with type 2 diabetes are able to keep their blood sugar levels under control with a good diet and regular exercise. But this will depend on the severity of your condition; many diabetics still require medications, insulin shots, or a combination of both.
Consulting our doctor and getting advice for your diabetes problem is recommended. They will be able to look at your general health and suggest whether you need diabetes treatment, and which one could be right for you.
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